The Violence of Chuck Berry

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(The following is an excerpt from a memoir I am writing about my career in public education. Music had a lot to do with it, believe me.)

I have taught many unusual lessons in my career. This one was not only successful (though even the best lessons are only partially so), but its history also incorporated a lot of the best and not a little of the worst of this profession.

I was teaching middle school at the time and was graced with a bunch of seventh graders who were game for anything interesting I proposed. They would go on to make me look great many, many times that year. In this case, their lesson grew out of a screw-up on my part.

Striving to realize our school’s challenging goal of integrating curriculum, our instructional team had tried to design an opening unit focusing on the idea of “culture.” For three weeks, each teacher—math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and special education—would design his or her instruction so that it addressed that common theme, with the unit output being a single assessment of learning, as opposed to five separate tests. Theoretically, it still sounds neat to me—in fact, it drew me away from my previous job just for the chance to try it. In reality, it’s a bitch to pull off. Just trying to talk about it caused my first teaching team to implode.

At this point in my middle school tenure, however, I was surrounded with comrades willing to give the idea a shot. We planned our culture unit very meticulously, and, of course, I, likely the most enthusiastic among us, zipped through my part of the unit quicker than necessary, quite possibly leaving a few students in the dust in the process. So, confronted with an additional three lessons to write before my fellow teachers were finished, I decided to give the young’uns a dose of Missouri culture and rock and roll, as well as an opportunity to be creative.

I have often said, only half-joking, that I teach to subsidize my record collection. But I have always reinvested what I’ve gained from music in the stock of U. S. public schools’ pop culture curriculum (even though that exists only in my mind), and, in this case, I thought it would be valuable for my students to study how one great rock and roll writer reflected his rich and complicated culture. I prepared, with one eye on Fair Use guidelines, a handout highlighting some of Mr. Chuck Berry’s most revealing lyrics (“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Back in the U.S.A.” among them), prefaced the lyrics with a quick artist bio, then guided the class through some close-listening of his music. As we proceeded, I led the kids in discussing what we had learned about U. S. culture circa 1955-1964, and advised them in taking a few notes. Then, over the next two periods, we put our shoulders to the wheel of the task: either write a song of your own, reflecting current U. S. culture, in Chuck’s style, or write a song about Chuck’s version of U. S. culture in your own style.

We had a blast, and, I must say, their work was very perceptive, witty, and—what do you know?—indicative of their having learned some valuable things! A couple students even brought guitars and played their songs. What we’d done leaked outside of our classroom (not surprising, in that my classroom was open to the hallways!), and we soon learned that our homeschool communicator’s college roommate had been Chuck’s lawyer at one point—and had his phone number.

One of the kids excitedly blurted, “Hey! Let’s send Chuck some of our songs!” You don’t say no to such a proposition, and soon the ex-roomie lawyer was on the horn to Chuck, asking him if he’d be up for reading some 7th graders’ tribute-songs to his bad self. Almost immediately, we received word back from Berry: send them on! We did a quick read-around, whittled our stack of 150 songs down to the best 30—we didn’t want to swamp ol’ Johnnie B. Goode!—slid them into a “vanilla envelope,” and put ‘em in the post. I didn’t really expect to hear from Chuck again; one of my long-time philosophies regarding ambitious enterprises is to expect absolutely nothing, which intensifies the exultation if things work out.

The next thing that happened was not a working-out.

A week after the culture unit’s conclusion—it worked nicely, but we were never to replicate its success beyond squeezing a birds-and-the-bees discussion into a “plant life cycles” unit—came our school’s “Back to School Night,” a late summer public ed staple during which parents are invited to meet their students’ teachers. These evenings usually prove a bit of a dog-and-pony show on our parts, but they are seldom high intensity, and, though the parents who most need to come don’t (usually they can’t—they are working), we usually at least mildly enjoy the opportunity to communicate to the grown-ups what we’re up to.

I didn’t expect to be called to the principal’s office. Via intercom.

When I stepped into her office, in front of Dr. Brown’s desk sat what I presumed to be a parent. On the parent’s lap lay her daughter’s English folder, open, with the Chuck Berry handout removed and unmistakably on display. I thought, “Oh shit—she’s a journalism professor and she’s got a copyright complaint. I knew I should have picked up those handouts after we finished writing!” I stood at attention, ready to be, perhaps justly, upbraided.

“This man does not have the moral fiber to be teaching my daughter!”

I take copyright seriously, but, well—wasn’t that a bit strong?

But this wasn’t about copyright. I could not have possibly guessed what it was about.

Remember that “quick artist bio”? I know what you’re thinking: no, I did not mention Chuck’s Mann Act scrape and accompanying prison stint, nor his naked photos with equally naked groupies, nor his tax evasion escapade, nor his exploits with video technology. Nor did this mother look those biographical tidbits up. (All idols have feet of clay, anyway.) Her concern was this: I was promoting violence in this unit.
She said that. Yes. And it was in the bio ‘graph I had written, branded into my memory since:“Berry’s machine-gun lyric delivery in songs such as ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ (see below) influenced none other than Bob Dylan, one of this century’s greatest songwriters.” She read that aloud, from the handout, to my principal and me, with supreme confidence and righteous indignation, as if it were irrefutable proof I was a warlock.

Wait—what??

Actually, I think that is exactly what I said. I looked at Dr. Brown—an excellent administrator I had purposely followed over to this particular school, and a human whom I was desperately hoping valued loyalty at the highest level—and stared in disbelief. The mother stood, read the passage aloud again, and punctuated it with this outburst: “It says right here—‘machine-gun lyrics’!!!” (As you can see above, it didn’t quite say that.)

I confess to being a lifelong smartass, but my reply was simply self-defense: “Do you understand figurative language?”

“Don’t try to slither out of this!” At that moment, I was the closest I have ever been to deeply understanding Kafka. And “slither”? Really?

Keeping my far eye pleading with the principal and my near one defiantly on my judge, I patiently explained the point behind the lesson. No sale.

I looked directly at my boss and said, in quizzical defeat, “Well, you could move her daughter to another team.”

The parent exploded. “She’s not going anywhere!”

I was stunned. I reflected for about an eighth of a second and said, to them both, “This is ludicrous. I have sane parents to speak to. Do what you must. I cannot explain more clearly what my valid and very moral intentions were. Goodbye.” Turned on my heel, went back to my class, and pictured two die spinning through the air.

That absolutely wonderful administrator, Dr. Wanda Brown, refused to budge in giving me full support—that’s one of the reasons why she still hangs the moon for me. The parent pulled her daughter from regular classes for homeschooling (I am sure, much to the daughter’s embarrassment), though she continued to send her over to us in the afternoon for French classes (that’s bullshit, if you ask me—you teach her French, lady). In spite of the whackiest—and wackest—parental guidance episode I had ever witnessed in my career, I proceeded to have a better year than Frank Sinatra’s in the song. The story of the Chuck Berry unit, however, had not yet concluded.

Spring. That lovable homeschool communicator rolled into my classroom—he did, in fact, roll—and motioned me over.

“Chuck’s coming to play at a local high school next week. [He lives in Wentzville, Missouri, just down I-70 from Columbia.] He loved the packet of songs, and he’s authorized you to bring over the ten student writers you think would get the most out of hearing and meeting him. I’ll take care of the bus.”
As the generation of teachers prior to mine would have exclaimed, “My goodness!” (That is not what I said; I repeated the title of a well-known Funkadelic title exclamation, but my moral fiber is too strong to repeat it here.) Though selecting the ten students proved an exercise in pure agony, we were soon filing into the choir room of the local high school, where the kids were given a front-row seat—
a mere five feet from the man himself, at that moment swiveling on a stool, his guitar on his lap.
My natural high was so intense, I cannot remember much of Berry’s talk, other than that Chuck gave rap lyrics his seal of approval (good man, and my kids beamed). However, when the afternoon turned to Q&A, I received an electric charge greater than a cattle prod’s when one of my students, Sekou Gaidi (whom I must name for posterity’s sake), stood to ask a question. Sekou, who often underperformed for me despite frequently being the smartest person in the room (including me), had actually been inspired during the Chuck Berry unit and written a killer song. He was also a combination of a cannon packed a shade too loose and Sun Ra (a jazz genius who uttered many a head-scratcher in his day). I admit, as the charge passed through me, that I was holding my breath.

Chuck: “Young man, what would you like to ask?”

Sekou: “I don’t know who in the heck you are”—Unadulterated claptrap! He was laser-focused through the entire three-day lesson!—“but my mom wants you to autograph this book.”

This request was delivered dry as toast, with arm toward the stage, Chuck’s recent autobiography at its fingers’ end as if it were trash recently plucked off the ground. Sekou’s expression? Slot-mouthed.

Three beats of silence. Excuse me while I break to present tense.

Chuck—Chuck Berry—is staring (glaring? I couldn’t tell!) at Sekou, then a pudgy, bespectacled little seventh-grader wearing mauve sweats. I am covering my hands, shaking my head, fairly sure that this is one of Sekou’s jokes, stunned by his unholy audacity if I am correct, and dreading what might rush into the resulting vacuum of silence.

Into the void rush explosive guffaws, straight out of the gut of The King of Rock and Roll. Then out of the audience’s. Then out of mine. My team teacher is laughing so hard she’s tearing up, and my wife Nicole, who’d come along and would later get her own copy autographed, is staring at me in stunned, gaping delight. In fact, I am tearing up a little right now, staring at this screen, mouth agape as I recall it.

Thus properly ends one of the best lessons I ever taught, embedded in the history of which, as with all the best lessons, are other very important lessons. I can only be thankful that the lessons did not come at me with machine-gun-like rapidity.

How I Decided to Become a Teacher (there’s just enough commentary on music herein to justify its being posted here!)

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I was destined to become a sports statistician. From an early age, I had nurtured an obsession with athletes’ quantifiable achievements, going so far as to design my own charts and take thorough account of every nationally-televised game, hole-punching the results, and keeping them in a binder, the contents of which would reach beyond 1,000 pages by my sophomore year in high school. I even invented players (name, height, weight, age, birthday and birthplace) and created “career statistics” pages for them, complete with annotations (awards won, injuries suffered, league-leading totals by category). As a sophomore and junior, I was the official statistician for our high school football and basketball teams while also playing (and starting) on those teams, and, as a cub reporter for the local paper, my stories on JV contests read like a stock ticker. By the time I accepted a position as the baseball team’s statistician during my freshman year at the University of Arkansas, only a major cataclysm could have disrupted a story arc that would inevitably end with me sitting behind a table at half-court during NBA games, a fantasy of mine that most red-blooded young men my age in 1980 would have hesitated to admit.

Only in retrospect do I understand this, but some minor tremors had already shaken the foundations of my meticulously constructed destiny. For one, an unconventional high school art teacher of mine named Howard South had been so skilled at introducing the world of ideas into his Art 1 and Art 2 classes, and so attentive to my initial flicker of interest in such, that he would regularly (and surreptitiously, making me feel unusually appreciated) drop a slip of paper on my easel tray. I still remember the first one: “ ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Thoreau.” I did not know from Thoreau, and the quote befuddled me, but I worked at it until I cracked its code. And, yes, I instinctively applied that to my fantasy of a career in statistics, with some misgivings, but I plowed ahead in denial. For another, I had also become obsessed with the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Johnny Rotten, and Elvis Costello, not inconsiderably due to Mr. South’s pokings at my grey matter. No one I knew shared this obsession, but I was an old hand at singular pursuits already, and, though this fixation seemed to regularly open up weird channels of understanding and delight for me and as a result seem less under my control than numbers, I never questioned it would be compatible with a statistician’s life. Finally, and disturbingly, my senior literature instructor had assigned a provocative college-level book to us, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, then proceeded to throw worksheets at us, tell war stories from his experience in Korea—and not once choose to discuss the implications of the novel. I couldn’t understand how a teacher could leave us in the dark, which he proceeded to do again a month later with that famously simple Shakespearean tragedy, Hamlet. When we studied that play (at present, I have taught it myself at least 10 times), we “learned” by reading it aloud in class, the instructor simply moving down the aisles in assigning parts each day and lifting nary a finger to either correct our blizzard of pronunciation errors or help us interpret the snowdrift of text. I’ll leave it to the reader to imagine the effect of that method on our learning. The test: 50 matching questions, quote-to-speaker. But, to repeat, this trio of quiet rumbles I neither connected to each other, nor considered any threat to the inertia of my career vision.

In some ways, it pains me to recall the coming derailing, destabilizing cataclysms. On one level, my story is one where a university education made all the difference, as the reader will see; however, the difference between a lower middle-class kid and his family being able to finance a university education in 1980 and the same kid’s chances in 2014 are sobering. The incurred debt necessary for our 2014 kid’s transition would, I suspect, put a career in teaching far down on the list of those that would facilitate efficient repayment. How many college students who would be transformative instructors will choose a more financially rewarding profession? The United States needs to provide a free public college education.

But I digress. Visiting the university bookstore with some newfound friends from my dorm, clutching my first-semester course list and a blank check from my parents, and having been required to read three-count’em-three novels my entire junior and senior high school career, I followed behind them up and down the aisles as they dropped the standard five textbooks into their baskets. Meanwhile, I, too, had picked up five textbooks; however, my ACT score had slotted me into an honors freshman comp-and-lit course (I do not remember choosing it, and cannot imagine I would have) and an honors world lit course, for which I was required to buy 29 paperback books—paperbacks were all they seemed to me at the time. I could barely haul my basket to the checkout line, and I thought dark thoughts about what my father would say when he saw the amount of the check (another pittance compared to 2014 dollars). Back in my dorm room, I spread out my new purchases on my bed—they completely covered its surface. I felt a chill, starting in my bowels, shooting up through my chest, out to my fingertips, and into the crevices of my brain: I had finally reached the point where I would be exposed as incapable.* I almost began to cry, until my neighbor Kenny thrust an illicit can of cheap beer into my hand for succor, the first of many that day. Later, alone, I stared blankly at the covers and titles of the paperbacks: The Crying of Lot 49, We, Emma, The Metamorphoses, The Inferno, The Great Gatsby, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Bell Jar, The Odyssey (hey—I KNEW THAT STORY), Song of Roland, Slaughterhouse Five, The Mill on the Floss, and more of which I was totally ignorant. I craned my neck to look at the stack of textbooks: two of them were Norton anthologies with dense text and membrane-thin pages. I remained in a kind of shock until I met with the two literature classes, where I was jolted into a new level of disorientation. In the comp and lit class, I would be required to read a book a week every week of the semester—as well as compose an essay for submission each and every Monday. In the world lit class, I was expected to pass every quiz, though I could throw one out, the problem being that each quiz, covering the entirety of, say, The Inferno, would be only three questions long, and missing more than one would, statistically, result in an “F.” Fortunately, my near-catatonic state following our discussion of those syllabi prevented not only weeping but projectile vomiting and potential contemplation of suicide (something I’d revisit differently in The Myth of Sisyphus).

At first, through fear of failure, indifference to the clock, and instant coffee, I barely survived. Then, a funny thing happened: I begin to really enjoy what I was reading. Gradually, the leap from Dylan/Costello/Rotten to Pynchon/Austen/Zamyatin seemed natural—and mutually reinforcing when it came to my ability to comprehend their output. The now-so-called paperbacks made the papers a breeze; I always had something on my mind from the former to connect to my own experience and knock out the latter. That, too, I enjoyed. And I enjoyed it tantalizingly more than I did writing up a basketball game. My cleft-palated world lit professor strolled in daily, smoking a Chesterfield King and wearing cut-off army fatigues and a Hawaiian shirt, then proceeded to enthrall us (well, at least me) with his dissection of mythological texts. I had never seen anything like him (though Mr. South had sported some bitchin’ sideburns) nor heard anything like him (his passion trumped South’s dry cynicism)—he had the courage to be himself, clearly. I dropped my biology class, very frankly to have more time to read the books and write the essays–because I enjoyed them, not because otherwise I could not have completed them. The fissure had opened, but not split me through.

The next semester, I deliberately took the second-semester section of honors comp and lit, which featured the same diet. By the end of my freshman year, I’d dumped the college baseball team, dumped the journalism major which I erringly assumed I’d need to become a statistician, and dumped “the dream” of being a statistician. I was staring into a void—in some ways, isn’t that the college sophomore experience?—but my eyes were smiling in anticipation rather than bugged in fear.

On another level, my story is very standard: the quest to learn how to do what you love for a living. I thought I had that figured out. I assumed, perhaps correctly (though for reasons which will become obvious I have never sought to know for sure), that a career as a sports statistician would bring decent financial rewards. It seemed specialized, and with specialization comes enhanced value, and with enhanced value comes a decent paycheck. At 19, however, I had not worked out the complete equation with regard to rewards—the idea that desirable rewards existed beyond the monetary realm. In many ways, though I hate to say it, my deficiency in life-math was the result of the stultifying educational culture I’d emerged from after graduating from high school (one Mr. South was not enough), and to a similar extent of the culture in which I’d been raised. My parents were farm-product Depression babies from Kansas who for very good reason wanted my eyes fixed on the bottom line. As I entered my sophomore year, bereft of a major (horrors!), I did not realize how thoroughly my cultural preparation would be upended by three special teachers.

I had chosen to take a folklore class, and the professor, Dr. Bob Cochran, brought in Howlin’ Wolf recordings, spoke fluent Dylanese, and showed films featuring Mardi Gras Indians and Professor Longhair. I thought to myself, “You can teach this stuff?” In addition, he was clearly on fire when he lectured. Numerous times, I left his class to walk down Dickson Street to Record Exchange to buy a record he’d referenced. I still own every one of them—except for one I have replaced twice from having worn it out!

I hated history because my previous teachers had killed the subject, but I was required to complete six credits of it, so I randomly scheduled myself into Dr. Reiser’s Western Civ class. I walked in, noted his advanced aged and somewhat bent form, and headed straight for the back of the classroom, where I could nod out undetected. Within 10 minutes, his utter command of his subject matter, his razor-sharp sarcasm in exploring the failures of human nature in the wendings of history, and his deftness with narrative brought me shame for having made such a choice. For the remainder of that semester, I sat center-front. I never took a note (and his lectures carried voluminous information); I just listened, riveted. I missed two points all semester, but racked up 45 bonus points from essay questions on tests. Simply put, I loved him and I loved the material.

My English lit instructor that year was Mr. Soos (yes: he was working on his doctorate!). An Ichabod Crane-like figure, he assigned perplexing but ultimately inspiring essays. Once, he simply scrawled the word “vacillation” on the board and said, “Personal essay on this topic, 1000 words minimum, due next Monday.” Class in unison: “What does ‘vacillation’ mean?” Soos: “Look it up.” In another essay for his course, I tried to argue that “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes was the greatest song ever recorded (I winced as I typed that); he volleyed back in comments that were nearly as long as my essay with a counterargument for The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night.” Most important, during one class period he was expounding in very exalted fashion upon Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” and brought us to these lines, which he read aloud, voice mildly shaking with passion:

…then, If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,

Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts

Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,

And these my exhortations!

Nor, perchance— If I should be where I no more can hear

Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams

Of past existence—wilt thou then forget

That on the banks of this delightful stream

We stood together; and that I, so long

A worshipper of Nature, hither came

Unwearied in that service: rather say

With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal

Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,

That after many wanderings, many years

Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,

And this green pastoral landscape, were to me

More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake! –

Human beings writing in reflection, with hope of being read and with hope of entertaining as well as enlightening, often bend reality with imagination to those ends. Readers, this is as it happened. I can still see him towering over us, gesticulating, making the poem comprehensible merely by the power of his reading—and in that moment, the fissure split my old dream, and I clearly remember thinking, “THIS would be honorable to do for a living. Even if I am the only one he is affecting this way, his actions are worthwhile. I am seeing and feeling the world more clearly as a result of this—I’m different on this side of that passage from who I was on the other.” That epiphany was followed by a tumbling together of other connections: my cultural transformation, forged in that freshman-year literary baptism of fire; my abandonment of the empty world of sports statistics (finally, it was bean-counting, barely even mathematics); the necessity of chance (my automatic enrollment in those early classes; my spin-the-bottle choice of the folklore course) in my further enlightenment; the realization of how much was really lost by a classroom of students by my old teacher’s choices in “instructing” Dorian Gray and Hamlet; the almost unimaginable thrill that seemed to me guaranteed to be inherent in spending hours helping students read, hear, and write powerful things, and understand how they connect with LIFE; the grokking of the possibility that I was passionate enough myself about this material that I could effect a change in others—just like Cochran, Reiser, and Soos had done for me—that would lead them to make themselves richer, something that would have been impossible had I achieved my original dream. That was the missing part of the equation. Shortly thereafter, I found my counselor, changed my major to English, and, as they say, you know the rest.

I still awaken every morning to consult ESPN about Kevin Durant’s line in the box score, if he’s playing. I marvel at the analytics that can be squeezed from numbers to more deeply evaluate athletes, and chuckle as I speculate about how my 11-year-old self would have seized upon those. But I have absolutely no regrets about the three decades I have spent in the classroom. As if to goose that statement into being, just before I typed that sentence, I received a Facebook message from a student from two decades ago asking, “Where do I go next from John Coltrane?”

My dark thoughts remain that moments like the ones I have shared—many of them hinging on random choices, but made accessible by a healthier, more just economy—have become less likely to be experienced by current high schoolers, as the dream of college either slips out of their reach or requires a debt-yoke that would steer the passionate toward more lucrative careers. We shall see. It may be that they will have to, need to, turn to blogs to be educated, and to educate. Honestly, I hope not.

*I would later find that this state of being is common for someone who spends his life standing in front of classrooms. Thanks, David!

Only Poem I’ve Written in the Last 15 Years…

…and it’s no surprise it’s about Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. This comes from maybe 6-7 years ago. I was teaching seniors at Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri, and trying to persuade them to shoot high in preparing for our class poetry slam. Nothing was seeming to work (strategies, videos, models, exercises, live readings), and, mildly crestfallen at my failure, I was surfing YouTube when I came to this video:

As usual, contact with Wills’ music banished the blues, then it occurred to me, “Hey, I’ll write my own poem for the slam, and surreptitiously introduce them to one of my all-time idols. If you know anything about The Youth of the ‘Oughts, you know any hope of them welcoming music like Western Swing with open arms was going to be dashed on the rocks. Still, I plunged blindly ahead. Here are the results, and after almost a decade, I guess I like them, because I am posting it:

“Texas Playboy”

After class one day,

Kid asks me about Howlin’ Wolf.

I submerge into pure joy for ten minutes

Channeling some Delta griot’s ghost that

Mastered me when I was the kid’s age.

When I surface, flushed but conscious,

The kid gapes at me with worried eyes.

Stutters, “So who’s your favorite?”

Speechless, I lie.

“That’s a parlor game, kid, shows

Free enterprise won’t even let you

Think about art without having to

Declare a winner. Good Lord.”

Kid shrugs, looks at his shoes.

“What a dick,” he thinks.

 

Fact is, I know all about such games.

Play them myself all the time.

Playing one now.

Have a favorite.

Looking at him now

On You Tube,

This portal for dead musicians

And hoarded cathode memories.

He is fat,

His belt sitting atop his navel

like a rough uncle.

Blatant toup wraps a head

Split by cophragous grin.

Squat, he struts the stage

Like a doctored chicken

In white cowboy boots.

White.

His axe?

A fiddle.

He is everything I know

Of cool.

 

This explains the lie, kid.

 

Old black and white short

From the Forties.

Crowded by a sextet,

Crouching as if to make,

He points fiddle bow at pianist,

And looses two euphoric syllables:

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh-ha!”

Bouncing saloon tinkles

Trigger steel

Trigger guit

Trigger trumpet

Trigger drums

Trigger fiddles.

Swing emerges,

Magic, ecumenical,

Impossibly joyous.

 

Wine tasters raise my hackles.

But permit me this:

If you could drink this sound

You would taste

Africa

Germany

Scotland

Our own maligned Texas.

 

Two choruses in,

He whirls and stabs bow

at the other fiddler.

“Ahhhhhhhhh, Joe D.”

By tune’s end,

All have shone.

 

Foreground:

Couples shelve grievances,

Embrance and spin,

Imagine, believe in,

Harmony.

 

He takes it home,

Raises fiddle to chin,

Graces band with a

Smiling, peripheral gaze.

 

So, kid—Bob Wills.

In my fantasy, I both

Point the bow

And wait my turn.

It flowed out if me in about 15 minutes, then I took about an hour to hammer at it. I read it to the kids the next day–of course, I showed the above video, and had to do a verbal version of footnotes, but they did not throw anything at me. And…every student wrote a poem and participated. The class elected its own judges, and I held myself out from the competition, obviously, but guess what won?

A poem that read like the lyrics to an Usher song, but, as its punchline revealed, was about washing and waxing…a car.

You can’t win ’em all. Or maybe you can.